Monday, 14 April 2008

The Solo Triathlete...

So a theme has cropped up this week - training solo. A couple of people have brought it up to me, and so, of course, that got the wee gerbil a spinnin' on his wheel.

I spend a great deal of my time training solo. I've found there can be positives and negatives to training alone. First though, I feel I should give a little background about me so you can put my thoughts in context...

I'm an only child. I failed sharing in kindergarten. I've learned to share since then, well, to a certain extent.

I will not share my Bridge Mixture. If you want some, get your own bag. Don't worry if you can't eat a whole bag, I'll finish off mine and gladly eat yours too.

I will not share my sushi; however, if you have something I want to try, I'd be happy to swap comparable pieces. No, I won't swap a spicy tuna cone for a tiny ass piece of california roll. Comparable is the key word here.

I will always share my Jack Daniels with you. Just bring a tumbler and some ice and I'll pour ya some sweet nectar of the Gods. We can then sit and talk about music, triathlon, movies or whatever.

Now this wee bit of background may lead you to believe I don't play well with others, hence I like to train alone. However, this would be a falsehood. I love swimming with the gang on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Having them there pushes me on days when I'm tired and have troubles finding the strength within to go harder. I loved riding with Richelle on the weekend; she brought my biking up a notch and I look forward to future Sunday rides for that reason. There is comaraderie to training with others that I enjoy.

So when is it good to train solo, and when is it good to train with a group?

I can only speak for myself, of course, but sometimes I find training with a group can lead to some negativity. Not on part of the others, but on my part. I loathe to admit this, but I have been known to fall in the trap of comparing myself to others. GASP! I know, it's hard to believe, yet it is true.

It matters not that I have only been doing this sport for two seasons. Nor does it matter that I started at a later age, I have weight lifting background rather than a running/biking/swimming background and I have completely different DNA from anyone else. For some reason, I feel I should have miraculously become the fastest, strongest triathlete ever within the past two years. I actually compare times, speeds, race results and wonder, how come I'm not like them?! The practice of comparison is silly of course. We all do it though.

Realistically, unless we are being paid to do this sport I think we should worry less about what others are doing and concentrate on all the little achievements we make.

Training on your own can have its advantages too. You won't be as tempted to compare yourself to anyone...because there is no one there! (You'll still do it after races though!)

The biggest gift I get from training alone is building up my mental strength. It is a well known fact that endurance races are 80% mental. So why not spend 80% of your time training alone and working on your mental game? Afterall, on race day, even with your family and friends cheering you on, it is just the totality of your mind and body that will get you through the day.

One of the bigger mental challenges I face is staying in the moment; staying focussed. I believe this is a necessity, not just in training and racing, but in life. It takes practice to stay calm and focussed. So practice I do. I sit on my trainer in the basement with no television, no radio, no distractions. I go out for a run without the MP3 player.

The majority of time I train alone my mind is busy with thoughts of the day, thoughts of what I want to write. Just thoughts. Zipping here and there - zing, zing, zing! Then I start to focus on my breathing. I focus on all my muscles working. If I'm lucky, a sense of calm washes over me. This is the zone. This is Nirvana. This is peace. I love being in this place, and I know I wouldn't get there if I weren't training alone.

The negative aspect of training alone is, of course, not having someone there to keep you going or to push you when you are struggling. One can only hope this doesn't happen to often.

So, what would you rather do - train solo or train with a group?

Peace out my friends.


  1. You are really hitting some topics I have been thinking about latetly? Are you that gerbil spinning around in my head???

    I have always played sports growing - mainly team sports but did a few solo type sports like X-running. My biggest struggle playing team sports was having to depend on someone else for the outcome and/or results. Admittedly, I was/am still a little competitive.

    When we moved to Calgary I switched to playing on a competitive mixed volleyball team. The players on my team were great, however, we all have bad days and I found myself getting frustrated with performances - both myself and with other people.

    A lot of nights I would come home frustrated and remember my wife saying to me "Why do you continue play something you are not enjoying?"

    In 2001 I was in a volleyball tournament and completely tore the ACL in my left knee along with damaging a menicus. 3 monthes of being on crutches forced me to take a hard look at my struggles with sports and my inherent unhappiness.

    Somehow I got onto triathlons and after my reconstructive surgery I started working towards my first race. 99% of the training was on my own and for once in my life I felt at peace with myself.

    Fast-forward to today, I still do about 99% of my training on my own. Mostly because I don't know anyone here and/or someone with the same training schedule.

    However, at the same time I have played the odd team sport since picking up Triathlon and can now "play well" with others. LOL. I truly believe this sport has taught me patience and understanding.

    If I had the choice of training solo or with a group, I would choose 50/50. I really enjoy the group setting and hanging with my buds but also enjoy the alone time to sit within my thoughts and comptemplate (sp?) the world.

  2. I train solo because I have no choice. There are not too many trithletes kicking around the Crowsnest Pass, pop. 5000, average age 77. LOL!

    Triathlon is an independent sport, like you said the mental training is so important. For me, there is always some point during a race (regardless of distance) where I just want it to be over/I want to stop/I tell myself, I will never do this again. All that time spent training by myself has strengthened my mind to overcome these low points.

    But -- the very few times I have had company out on a bike ride, or a swimming partner has been SO AWESOME!!! I think it must be because it is such a novelty for me to have someone to talk triathlon or training to. Last year, I went out on a number of long bike rides with another fellow who was doing IMC. He pretty much led the entire way -- most of the ride we didn't even see each other. But we would stop once in a while at a gas station to go pee, or refill our bottles and it was just so good to have someone there. We biked an epic 9.5 hours one day and the heat, headwind on the return trip, and sharing our depleting nutrition acted as a powerful bond.

    I don't know if I would like training with other people all the time though -- I am a Taurus, and once I get in my rut, you dare not try and move me!! LOL!

  3. Lyrics by Linda with apologies to George Thorogood.

    I train alone, yeah,
    With nobody else
    I train alone, yeah
    With nobody else
    You know when I train alone
    I prefer to be by myself

    Every morning just before breakfast
    I don't want no coffee or tea
    Just me & my granola
    That's all I ever need
    'Cause I train alone, yeah,
    With nobody else
    Yeah, you know when I train alone
    I prefer to be by myself

    The other night I went spinning
    And I spun until I screamed
    So I called up my good pal Jenna
    And blogged my IGP
    And I trained alone, yeah,
    With nobody else
    Yeah, you know when I train alone
    I prefer to be by myself

    The other day I went for a swim
    But I wanted to stay in bed
    With no swimming or running or biking
    I'd prefer massage instead
    And I trained alone, yeah,
    With nobody else
    Yeah, you know when I train alone,
    I prefer to be by myself

    My whole family think I am crazy
    And it makes me feel oh so bad
    The only one's who will hang out with me
    Are Iron folks who are half mad
    And we train alone, yeah,
    With nobody else
    Yeah, you know when I train alone
    I prefer to be by myself

  4. First off, Linda you rock! I love George Thouroghgood and that song, and now love it even more with the new lyrics. I will likely be singing that this weekend as I spend mucho hours on the trainer...alone. LOL.

    Shannon, I totally get what you mean about team sports - the few times I have played them I haven't enjoyed myself because of the thought that I have to depend on others, and others have to depend on me. Hence I stuck to martial arts, weight training, and now, triathlon.

    Jules, you are so right about that point in the race when you are like 'WTF am i doing this for???' It takes mental toughness to do any endurance event and I think one can only achieve that by spending some quality time training alone.

    Thanks so much for your comments - They're great!

  5. Overall I don't mind training solo. Every now and then it's nice to be working out with someone, especially if you're about the same level. That way you can encourage each other, and push or pull each other to a new level.

    I've never really been big on team sports. The stigma of being the last kid picked for the team is still with me, I think.

  6. As a middle child who never really had anyone to play with I am use to entertaining myself. I perfer to run on my own for the most part and I love to cycle in a group. Getting out of the peloton head and into the tri head is going to be a challenge for me this year. Swimming I like a mix, group training for the week and a set on my own on the weekends to work on stuff.

    But I often find myself in the same problem. I'm secretly very competitive and spend a lot of needless energy wanting to be better then someone else and get angry at myself when I'm not the fastest, bestest, triathlete around! It's a silly mindset and could cause damage on race day.

    I did find last summer that I found myself alone a little too much. So this year I plan on joining more groups and doing things with others to make it social and training.

    I was with Keith and always the last person choosen to play on any team sports. I like that I don't have to worry about letting others down, that it's all up to me.